By Tankiso Makhetha
Pretoria – Stronger measures should be taken to help police officers who have suffered traumatic experiences while on duty, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has said.
The call comes after this week’s murder-suicide by Sergeant Thamsanqa Tsolo, 40, who killed his wife Ntswaki Tsolo, 39, before turning the gun on himself. It happened on Monday morning at the Tshwane Police Training College in Pretoria.
It was not clear why Tsolo, an officer with 19 years’ experience, gunned down his wife, but police said the circumstances surrounding the apparent murder-suicide were being investigated.
Dr. Johan Burger, of the ISS, said this was one of the incidents which highlighted a grimmer facet of the lives of police officers. “There need to be stronger attempts to strengthen psychological services for police officers,” Burger said.
Speaking to the Pretoria News on Wednesday, Burger said the number of trauma and depression-inducing crime scenes that police were exposed to on a daily basis was unavoidable, but measures to control the effects they had should be re-evaluated.
“One of the main issues is that front line officers frequently attend scenes of murder and gruesome assaults repeatedly. This will obviously have an impact on them, but it’s also unavoidable due to the nature of their jobs,” he said.
Burger said connected to this, was the misconception of masculinity associated with being a police officer, which inadvertently brought about reluctance among officers to seek counseling.
“Police officers are usually reluctant to voluntarily seek counseling, because they believe this is a sign of weakness, as they have a tough image to maintain. Counseling should be obligatory and shouldn’t be left to the discretion of officers.”
In June, Warrant Officer Morné du Toit, one of the official police photographers called to the Oscar Pistorius shooting scene in 2013, turned to the high court in Pretoria in a bid to force the SAPS to place him on a medical pension. The murder scene was the last straw for the already traumatized policeman, who had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been diagnosed more than two years prior.
Du Toit was admitted to the Eugene Marais Hospital for major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder three weeks after the Pistorius incident and has not been back at work since. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in November 2010 and placed on sick leave by a psychologist.
However, Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru) chairman in Gauteng, Vusimuzi Tshabalala, said the situation was not as cut and dried as it appeared. Making a direct link between trauma and depression and the nature of work officers experience would be oversimplifying the issue, he added.
“Yes, to an extent, this could be the case. But you must also understand that policemen are human and have other things that affect their lives, such as being financially strained or exposure to corruption at work,” he said.
Both Tshabalala and Burger agreed that stronger measures needed to be implemented.